Steubenville officials took a good first step in helping to cut through the conflicting and sometimes outright misleading information that has been swirling around the city for quite some time when they announced the launch of SteubenvilleFacts.org.
The website, which has been active since Jan. 5, has been created to respond to rumors with facts about the investigation into an alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl in August.
By now, the case is familiar not just to residents of the Tri-State Area, but to the rest of our nation and many parts of the world. Two 16-year-old student-athletes at Steubenville High School stand accused of the crime. And while their trial is not scheduled to begin until Feb. 13, the court of public opinion has been weighing in on the case by traditional methods, including peaceful public demonstrations, and through newer methods such as minute-by-minute posts on social media.
The speed at which information can be shared today, however, often can come with a steep price tag - and that's potentially compromised accuracy.
City Manager Cathy Davison and other city officials are hoping the site can help combat concerns that have been raised about information regarding the case. What the site does is offer information about the facts surrounding the case that are available and details about the investigation and the backgrounds of those who have handled it. What it does not do is discuss evidence - that's the job of defense attorneys and prosecutors who will argue their cases in front of Thomas Lipps, a visiting judge who has been assigned to handle the case by the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
City officials have made offering accurate, timely information a priority and have taken the additional step of hiring an expert in crisis management to advise them. That advice also comes at a cost - the city has paid $7,500 for the first month of the service and will pay the same amount for a second month, if needed. While we agree with Davison when she says that's money the city does not have to spend right now, we also agree it was a move that had to be made, given the current volatile atmosphere.
Going forward, Davison and others in the city hope to see put in place in the community a mechanism for educating young people about the dangers of underage drinking, the proper use of social media and that sexual assault can never be acceptable. Officials hope to tap into community resources including the A.L.I.V.E. shelter and the Sexual Assault Help Center for assistance.
Some adults in the community also need to be reminded that it can never be acceptable to help underage people obtain alcohol or look the other way while alcohol is consumed at parties or other locations by those under the age of 21.
Emotions surrounding the case are running high and will continue to do so for well into the foreseeable future. While it's difficult to dispel rumors and innuendo, at least the city has been willing to step forward in an attempt to make a difference by calling for increased education and making what is known to this point about the investigation available to the public.